Archives for : January2013

Build a “closet.”

HOW DO YOU build a “sanctuary” in your busy life; a place where you can meet with God…?

Build a “closet.”

Isaac’s closet was in a field (Genesis 24:63).  Peter’s closet was on a housetop (Acts 10:9).

You must fashion your own.

It may mean leaving the kids with your spouse, while you sit out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and your Bible for fifteen minutes.

It may mean snatching a few minutes when your baby is taking his or her afternoon nap.

For those who have a long drive to work, your sanctuary may be in your car with a CD player.  It may mean posting a passage of Scripture near your steering wheel, where you can meditate and pray about it during the time that you drive.

It may mean reading your Bible during your lunch break at work.

It may mean taking the first ten minutes to read and pray in your office each morning.

It may mean putting your tennis shoes on and going for a walk with your Bible in hand.

It may mean sitting in your garage or workshop with a CD player to listen to sermons.

THOUGHT: It’s not what the sanctuary looks like or where it is that matters.  It’s what you do there that makes it a meaningful place.  The sanctuary does not provide rest.  What takes place there in the desert is what refreshes the inner man.  (Steve Farrar).

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”  Matthew 6:6

Mike Benson

Would you forfeit $50,000.00

11 year-old Nick Smith entered a contest to win $50,000.00. All Nick had to do was shoot a 3 inch hockey puck through a 3 ½ in hole from 90 feet away. Nick took careful aim, hit the puck with his hockey stick and to everyone’s amazement, the puck went in the hole! It was a one in a million shot that earned this 11 year-old boy $50,000.00…or did it?

You see, Nick actually didn’t take the shot, his twin brother Nate did. Why? Because when Nick’s name was called to take the shot, he was not in the arena, so his identical twin brother stood in for him. No one would have known, except Nick and Nate’s father. Well, on Monday Nick and Nate’s father let the cat out of the bag and admitted to the officials that Nate, not Nick actually took the shot. When asked why he would reveal this secret, the father said “We thought honesty was the best policy, and we wanted to set a good example for our kids.”

May their tribe increase! Question: Would you forfeit $50,000.00 over a technicality that no one would ever notice? Or to cut to the chase, is your integrity for sale?

Steve Higginbotham

The physical body is laid to rest

Though the practice has been around for some time, I had not seen it before. Gathered at a cemetery where a loved one’s remains were about to be interred, we witnessed a moving scene. One basket containing three white doves was opened; the doves flew overhead but did not depart. A second basket was opened and a single dove emerged. When the lone dove joined the three, they all flew out of sight.

A story was told as the birds flew away. The lone dove represented the soul of the departed loved one joining the Trinity. That solitary dove did not have to make its journey home alone, just as our loved one would not travel through eternity unattended.

The Bible doesn’t portray it exactly that way. Nowhere are we told that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit meet disembodied spirits to lead them to heaven. But there are elements of the visual parable that are true.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 was written before the dramatic announcement of Jesus’ resurrection, but it teaches truth: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (NKJV). The physical body is laid to rest beneath the earth, or in some other way disposed. The spirit, however, makes a different journey.

Jesus gave more details in the story he told of a rich man and a beggar. (Whether an actual account or a parable, it teaches truth either way.) The beggar, a man named Lazarus, was one who pleased God. When he died, Jesus said, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). The rich man, who lived outside of God’s will, “was buried” and lifted up his eyes in a most uncomfortable situation (Luke 16:23).

How do homing pigeon (the more accurate description of those white doves) know their way home? The birds brought to the funeral had been transported many miles and across a mountain range. Experts have studied these birds and still have no clear explanation for this amazing ability. Yet our lack of understanding has not prevented us from using these birds as messengers in times of crisis.

How does the soul find its way home after death? Not much information is supplied by God’s word. There is no doubt, though, that God takes care of those who are his own. Those who are people after God’s own heart often wish, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 55:6). One day God will provide wings (of angels) for his people to enable their final voyage. Jesus’ story tells me that my soul will be safely and lovingly guided to the home I’ve long desired.

Tim Hall

Genesis is Full of Lies

Before you respond with a letter of loving reprimand, permit me to substantiate my claim. No, this is not an attack on the inerrancy of Scripture, nor is it yet another feeble attempt at recasting the literal language of Genesis into figurative. But there is a sense in which the first book of the Bible is full of lies.

The Old Testament records a significant incident in Eden’s garden. The devil, in the form of a serpent, approached mother Eve and inquired, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'” His goal was not to learn what the Almighty had actually said, but to prepare the woman’s heart for deception.

Eve replied that both she and her husband enjoyed the God-given liberty to eat from any tree within the garden (Genesis 2:16; Genesis 3:1-3), save one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She noted that eating and touching fruit from this particular tree would incur the judgment of God and result in the couple’s death.

“Not so!” said the devil. “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4).

In essence, the specter of death was simply an intimidation tactic employed by God to dissuade Adam and Eve from becoming like deity themselves. According to the “old serpent” (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2), Jehovah dangled punishment over the first couple to keep their ambition in check. Death was God’s lie; it was an empty threat fostered upon man and woman in order to rob them of divinity and omniscience.

One commentator observes:

“Having led Eve first to question God’s authority and goodness and then both to augment and dilute His Word, Satan now as ready for the ‘kill.’ ‘Ye shall not surely die.’ The fact that God has warned Adam, and Adam had told Even, that eating the fruit of the tree would result in death, was beside the point. That warning, Satan suggested, was merely because of God’s fear that they would learn too much. Not content merely with altering God’s Word, Satan now blatantly denied it, calling God a liar.”/1

I find it striking that Genesis opens with the devil’s deception. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). He accused God of the very thing he was guilty of himself (2 Corinthians 11:3)!

But I find it equally striking how that the book of beginnings records how humanity often emulated the devil in dishonesty. Cain lied about knowing what had happened to Abel. Abraham lied about the identity of Sarah—twice!

Sarah lied about laughing at the promise of God. Isaac lied about the identity of Rebekah. Jacob and Rebekah lied to Isaac about a son’s true identity. Simeon and Levi lied to Shechem and his father, about the alleged demise of their brother, Joseph (Have you noticed a sort of family history—grandfather, father, son, etc., of dysfunction and deceit?).

Potiphar’s wife lied about an incident with a slave in her home. Joseph lied when he accused his family of spying out the land of Egypt. Yes, Genesis, in a sense, is full of lies and serves to remind us that man is perhaps most like the devil when he says that which does not correspond to truth (2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 2:2).

According to James Patterson and Peter Kim in their landmark work, The Day America Told The Truth, ninety- one percent of us lie regularly. The majority find it hard to get through a week without lying. In fact, one in five can’t make it through a single day without telling a conscious, premeditated lie. People continue to pattern themselves after the devil’s example, don’t they?

Jesus hates lies. “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:15; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

May I suggest that we ought to be more like Jesus (John 14:6)?

by Mike Benson

Do you have peace?

Many times we would have a small group get together for a lunch Bible study at work. We always invited others to sit in with us. One individual was particularly rude in his rejection. One day he decided to walk through the center of the group on his way back from the cafeteria.

“Stupid (expletive deleted)!, he muttered so everyone could hear.

One of our members spoke up and asked him what he was so angry about.
“I’m not (expletive) angry,” he replied.

“Well you sure come across that way and I believe that I know why,” said our member. “We have something that you don’t have.”

That drew more expletive animosity along with a sneering, “What could you possibly have that I don’t?”

“Peace,” said our member.

There was silence and a perplexed look that came over him. He had been unmasked and revealed to all. I have never forgotten that moment. When the temptation may have been to reply with a harsh answer, my friend was meek. It stunned the aggressor. Last week I preached about Matthew 5:5 and I, again, recalled the power of a meek reply.

– Charlie Gamble

The “Residents” Up On Boot Hill

Coming back from a gospel meeting in Neosho, Missouri, with my two oldest sons (and our dog, Clover), we decided to take a state road route that brought us into Dodge City, Kansas.  This is perhaps the most famous town in that prairie state.  The TV show, Gunsmoke, brought it greater fame, though it was in the county whose leading lawmen were Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.  The discovery of gold and later cattle drives from Texas made it a boom town that introduced every type of vice and lawlessness nearly overnight.  Not surprisingly, then, one of the most prominent places in Dodge City was the cemetery, located up on Boot Hill.  From 1873-1878, its dirt was turned frequently as six-foot holes were dug to accommodate those unfortunate enough to need to relocate there.

There is a plaque outside a building which faces the small cemetery (grave markers litter each side of that building that sits above the restored version of the original town that includes a general store, a couple of saloons, a church building, a livery stable, a large house, etc.).  It contains historical information about the “residents” in Boot Hill Cemetery, drawn from state newspaper accounts.  J.M. Essington, part owner of the hotel, was shot by the cook.  John Wagner died of wounds incurred in a shoot out with Masterson. “Texas” Hill and Ed Williams were both killed in a dance hall by Dodge City’s “vigilance committee.”  Five buffalo hunters froze to death in a blizzard north of town.  Jack Reynolds, a railroad track layer, was shot six times.  Alice Chambers was reported to be the only woman buried at Boot Hill, and she was supposedly the last person buried there.

A couple of interesting things struck me about all of this.  First, many of these deaths would have been avoided if the victims had avoided sinful activities or places where sinful activities occur (dance halls, saloons, gambling parlors).  Righteous living often serves to preserve our lives, in the short-term and long-term.  Second, the dead were of varying occupations, different genders, different ages, and from different places of origin.  The common denominator is that they lived and they died.  Whether “immortalized” in a famous town like Dodge City or unmarked in obscurity, every grave is a reminder that man is born to die (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 5:12ff).  Most, if not all, of these lawless ones, vagabonds, drifters, and townspeople, likely died outside of Christ.  That is what makes these (and most other) grave markers so sad.  Most who die, die lost (Matt. 7:13-14).  But, because Christ did not remain in His grave (Ps. 16:10; Ac. 2:29-31), we can overcome death and the grave (1 Cor. 15:55-57).  Wherever our earthly journey ends, let us be sure that our spiritual journey ends in heaven.

–Neal Pollard

Exams at Cambridge University

Here is an “urban legend” regarding exams at Cambridge University which is still fun to read.

It is said that during an examination one day a bright young student popped up and asked the proctor to bring him Cakes and Ale.  The following dialog ensued:

Proctor:  I beg your pardon?

Student:  Sir, I request that you bring me Cakes and Ale.

Proctor:  Sorry, no.

Student:  Sir, I really must insist.  I request and require that you bring me Cakes and Ale.

At this point, the student produced a copy of the four-hundred-year old laws of Cambridge, written in Latin and still nominally in effect, and pointed to the section which read (roughly translated): “Gentlemen sitting examinations may request and require Cakes and Ale.”  Pepsi and hamburgers were judged the modern equivalent, and the student sat there, writing his examination and happily slurping away.

Three weeks later, the student was fined five pounds for not wearing a sword to the examination.

When we are study the law, we sometimes are careful to find those things which may benefit us, while trying to ignore the rest.  It happens with the Bible all the time.  Ever known anybody who only quoted the Bible when it was convenient for them (“Judge not that ye be not judged”)?  They want to get their “cakes and ale” but ignore the part about “wearing a sword”?  God’s Word isn’t like a cafeteria.  We don’t get to go through and pick out which parts we want and which parts we don’t like.

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.  For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’  Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:10-12)

Take delight in those parts of God’s law which give delight, but be ready to take the responsibility given by the rest of His law as well.

Alan Smith

The movie *Traffic*

IN THE ACADEMY award-nominated film Traffic, Michael Douglas plays the federal government’s newly appointed drug czar, charged with leading the country’s war on drugs…

In a sad irony, he is so caught up in his rising political career that he is blind to the fact that his own teenage daughter is a drug addict.  Because of his wife’s own previous experimentation with drugs, she is able to see what her husband missed–the clear, unmistakable warning signs that her daughter was involved with drugs.  When Douglas’ character finally realizes that his own daughter has become hooked on illegal drugs, his wife chastises him for not picking up on the warning signs earlier.  The film’s audience feels Douglas’ mix of frustration, self-anger, and helplessness as he realizes that he “should have seen it coming.”

Illicit drug users aren’t the only ones who give warning signs.  Research has shown that a wide variety of destructive social behaviors are preceded by visible early-warning signals.  Many times, people whose spouses have been unfaithful to them say that, in hindsight, there were signs that something was amiss in the marriage.  Similarly, young women suffering from eating disorders often drop clues to their behavior.  And frequently those committing suicide will tip off their intentions ahead of time.  Of course, not everyone in such situations exhibits the signs.  And obviously, not everyone knows how to read the signs properly.  But those who do are, more often than not, able to detect that something is wrong and successfully intervene either to prevent or minimize the negative behavior.

Might the same be true for those falling away from the faith?  Do those abandoning the Lord telegraph their behavior ahead of time?  These are important questions because, if there are some telltale signs that a fellow Christian is drifting away from the faith, keen-eyed believers might be able to act to prevent him or her from falling away.  (Brian Simmons)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galatians 6:2

Mike Benson

There’s a bear in the hole

Have you ever have one of those days when, no matter how hard you try, things just seem to go from bad to worse?

The story is told of two cowboys who were working cattle one day. One of them discovered he was in trouble when a wild bull, with his head down and nostrils flaring, came charging toward him. The cowboy saw a deep hole in the ground and quickly jumped in it. As soon as the bull passed over him, he jumped out of the hole.

The bull, madder than ever, came charging back again, and the cowboy jumped back down into the hole. When the bull passed, the cowboy jumped out of the hole again. He did this several times.

Finally, the other cowboy, who was watching it all from a distance yelled out, “Why don’t you just stay in the hole?”

The cowboy yelled back, “I would, but there’s a bear in the hole!”

Maybe some of you feel like every day is like that! If ever there was someone who must have felt that way, it was the apostle Paul, though. Listen to him describing his life as a Christian:

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…” (2 Cor. 11:24-27)

Sounds a man who ought to be miserable, doesn’t it? I mean, how much can one man take? How much worse can it possibly get? It convicts me to read through that list as I think of the minor problems in my life that I allow to create a dark cloud over my life. If I had to deal with the problems on Paul’s list on a daily basis, then I’d really have reason to moan and whine, “Why, me Lord? Why does life have to be so hard?”

The funny thing is, though, that wasn’t Paul’s reaction at all. He didn’t list all those problems to garner sympathy. In fact, he finishes out this section by writing:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake…..” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Taking pleasure in distresses? When is the last time you took pleasure in locking your keys in your car? When is the last time you took pleasure in running your cell phone through the washing machine (don’t laugh! I actually did that this week)? When is the last time you took pleasure is hearing the news that you’re getting laid off, the biopsy came back positive, or there was a terrible auto accident?

The “pleasure” in such things is not the ability to laugh and joke. The “pleasure” is found in the last half of 2 Cor 12:10, “…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Everything that happens to me in life is a reminder that I am not in control, but I am a child of the One who is. It is a reminder that I don’t have the power to fix everything that breaks in life, but I serve the one who does have that power. It is reminder that I sometimes don’t know how I’m going to have the strength to cope, but I rest in the arms of the One who has promised to be there with me no matter what. And it is during those moments when life throws its worst at me that I feel closest to God.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10)

Whatever trials you are facing this day, may you find your strength in God.

Alan Smith

January 18, 2013

I am profitably engaged in reading Phil Sanders book, Adrift, in which he deals with postmodernism in the church and how it has affected our attitude toward authority and/or divine pattern in churches of Christ.   I have scarcely scratched the surface of this 250 page book, and like Nehemiah of old I am “astonished” at the absolute nonsense that permeates the thinking of those in high places of academia.   Professors have brain washed this generation into believing that truth is not absolute.  To put it another way, truth is changing, “fluid,” adapting itself to the times – so they say!  Some years ago Alan Bloom made the same observation in his book, Closing Of The American Mind:  “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending” (Bloom, page 25).   Let me state up front that any affirmation that truth is not absolute is not only a lie, it is self defeating.  If truth is NOT absolute, then how can one making such a statement that “truth is not absolute” be absolutely certain in the certainty of that which he has affirmed?  At the same time, post modernism is inconsistent.  If an astrologist tells the average person there are 278,732,168 stars in the universe, he will believe him.  But if a painter hangs a sign which reads “wet paint,” that same person thinks he has to make a personal invitation to see if it is correct.   Why is it that the scientific community can make some of the most outrages statements regarding the origin of man, and average Joe Bazooka will believe him without so much as a simple investigation into the truth of the matter?   It seems that with the passing of time the American public has become increasing gullible.   This may explain why the educational system has swallowed the false doctrine of evolution “hook, line, and sinker!”  It may explain why homosexuality no longer seems to be a matter of morality, why Islam and Hinduism are increasingly popular, and why our politicians in Washington can’t seem to practice fiscal responsibility.  It may also provide an explanation as to why scam artists are so successful, and the American people are growing more foolish.   We are reaping the fruits of half a century of modernism that has been fostered upon the unsuspecting and gullible.  Brother Sanders has summed this up so well:

Since the sea of uncertainty has no rudder, it cannot determine which direction to go.  We may drift wherever we please, but we may not make moral judgments. No one may impose any morality on anyone else so choosing one true direction over another is impossible.   The thinking of the time suggests we must allow going in many directions at once; every alternative is right.  The words of the theme song from Mahogany ask, “Do you know where you’re going to?”  The postmodernist cannot say. He may know what he has ceased to be, but he has cut all ties to the past. He is not so sure what he is right now and really does not know what he is becoming.  He cannot say what he is becoming because he cannot determine with any finality where he is going. Since he is committed to remaining free from determining where he is going, he will not allow anyone to tell him. It is the worst of postmodern sins to decide and point.  Again, the ultimate commitment is absolute and moral theological freedom (Sanders, Adrift, page 30).

If you find that kind of mind-set confusing and illogical you must remember that the Christian thinks different from the world – as he should.  Once a person buys into the lie that there is no absolute truth, that all is relative to the age in which we live, he begins the journey toward the kind of sophisticated silliness demonstrated in postmodernism.   Fortunately, the only sane way of thinking is that which possesses a faith in God, a belief in the inspiration of His word, and the absolute reality of truth.   Personally, I would rather hold fast to the word of God, imbibe its teaching, and embrace its promises than to cast off my rudder and compass and find myself adrift on a sea of hopelessness and happenstance.    You are either going to believe in God, Christ, and the Bible, or you are going to embrace anything that comes along.  Those, in my estimation, are the only two alternatives.

–By Tom Wacaster

A Pitcher’s Mound

I guess you have to know my dad to appreciate this one. But for those of you who don’t know him, I’ll introduce you to one of his character traits. Dad loves his lawn. I have countless memories of my dad working in the lawn. Dad didn’t just work in the lawn, he “groomed” the lawn (remember those hand-held scissor tools used for trimming? I was never so thankful for the invention of the weed eater!).

Anyway, our yard was pristine, beautifully manicured…except for one spot in the back. There was a bare spot in the middle of our back yard where no grass would grow. One day, someone visiting with my dad, who could obviously see that he took great pride in his yard, asked him why there was a bare spot in the back yard. My dad’s response to him was simply, “Don’t you know a pitcher’s mound when you see one?”

You see, as much as my dad loved his lawn, he loved his son more. Dad wasn’t raising grass, he was raising a boy. And I for one, am thankful for his perspective.

What about you? How’s your perspective? Give it some thought.

–by Steve Higginbotham

He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin

MANY OF US indulge at every opportunity…

We gorge ourselves with good, drink, clothes, television, sports, etc.  Moderation does not come easily to us.  Yet the foundation ethic of talk is self-control.  Whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we do, we must control our talk.

Disciplining our talk may be the ideal place to being disciplining ourselves in other areas.  I have heard of desperately obese people having their mouths wired shut to allow them to lose weight.  I suppose we could do that to improve our speech ethics too.  But such an approach to control would deal only with mechanics.  It does not deal with the lack of discipline in our character.  (William Baker)

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”  Proverbs 13:3; cf. Matthew 12:33-35; 1 Peter 3:10; Psalm 34:12-13

Mike Benson

Arbeit macht frei

The words, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free” welcomed everyone who entered the Auschwitz death camp. The emaciated few that remained when the Russians liberated the camp were far too weak to have done anything, much less work.

The prisoners were so frail that they were largely unable to eat the food that their liberators provided. They had endured unimaginable horrors in that place and they had to go out into the world, replete with the knowledge that their lives would never be the same, their loved ones were dead and their nation decimated.

Imagine one of the prisoners saying to the Russian soldiers, “I love this camp and I want to stay here forever. The Nazis were good to us. Can they come back?”

We would say that the terrors of the camp had driven them stark, raving mad. This type attitude, while appearing to be insane, has nonetheless existed for a long time.

The people of Israel were suffering mightily from the hands of their Egyptian captors. They “groaned because of their bondage, and they cried out” to God to save them (Exodus 2:23, NKJV). God intervened and brought Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. God brought plaques upon Egypt because of the stubborn refusals of Pharaoh to release the people of God (Exodus 7-12).

As a result of God’s work, Israel was released from captivity. Yet, shortly after their liberation, Israel began to whine and complain. When they finally received the freedom they dreamed of, they despised it.

“So the LORD’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone” (Numbers 32:13).

On several occasions, the nation of Israel inexplicably asked to return to Egypt. They willingly wanted to return to slavery, beatings and oppression. They were unconcerned about what would happen to their children. They only thought of themselves.

Can we imagine what Pharaoh would have done to them, had they returned?

We are in bondage to sin as humans (Romans 3:23; 7:24; John 8:34). We have no hope of attaining salvation on our own. No human holds the key to the prison doors. We needed a Savior so Jesus used his keys to open the cell doors (John 10:10).

Jesus came and paid the blood price for our sins on the cross (Romans 5:6-11). He is the only who could bring us back to God (John 14:6; John 8:32).

Three days after Jesus died on the cross, “a great earthquake” occurred and the stone was rolled back and the tomb of Jesus was empty (Matthew 28:1-6). In that moment, Jesus conquered death and provided everyone a way of salvation. In essence, the earthquake opened the spiritual prison doors of every person who would ever live. Everyone had found freedom!

Yet, billions of people refuse his offer and close the cell door again. They would rather remain imprisoned. Meanwhile, Satan’s laughs reverberate through the corridors of the dungeons as the prisoners believe the lie.

Jesus says to Satan, “Let My people go!” Yet, most do not want to go. They would rather be devoured by Satan.

Jesus offers never-ending joy and happiness. Satan spews forth nightmares and perpetual agony. However, beyond any rational thought, people prefer the nightmares and the torture.

Even Christians leave the Lord and go back to the squalor of sin (2 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 10:32-39).

Someone physically stands between heaven and hell and gets to choose. They see with their eyes the overwhelming beauty on one side and the overwhelming ugliness on the other and say, “Sorry, Jesus. I choose hell. It looks nice.”

I seriously doubt that sane people would do this. Yet, they do it every day when they reject Jesus.

The phrase over our door can be, “Rationalization will NOT set us free.”

— by Richard Mansel @ www.forthright.net

A massive jailbreak?

“A Taste Of Crime’s Effects”

Cells in the new jail in Jefferson City, MO were filled last weekend, but by Monday morning they were empty. A massive jailbreak? No, each inmate was happily released after serving their 24-hour “sentence”. And none walked away with a blemish on their criminal record!

Cole County was about to open their brand-new jail and wanted to conduct a test run. Citizens were offered the chance, for a $30 fee, to experience a night behind bars. 170 paid their fee and left all of their personal belongings at the front desk. Though none of the cell doors were actually locked, all other aspects of jail life were reproduced. It was a sobering experience for those who participated, though each was given a mug shot and a T-shirt as a token of their time served.

Few who spend time in lockup facilities leave with a smile. For most of the nearly 2.3 million who were incarcerated at the end of 2009, jail is a humbling ordeal, filled with shame, guilt and fear of further action to come. Some enter prison with no expectation of ever leaving. Theirs is a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.

Medicine has made “inoculation” a familiar concept. A vaccine or a serum is injected into our bodies, and that injection leads to a small-scale invasion. But in the process our bodies develop antibodies to fight the infection, and the memory of that battle will remain in our systems. Most of us welcome this small health battle, considering it a good investment if it means success over a larger enemy in the future.

Those who paid to spend a night in jail in Missouri last week were “inoculating” themselves against any desire to step outside of the law’s boundaries. By having this no-risk experience of life in jail, they strengthened their resolve to be law-abiding citizens.

The Bible has much to say about the concept of sin. Is there anything good to be said about sin? If there is, it might be this: A taste of sin should awaken us to the fearful prospect of an eternity without God.

Paul, in Romans 8, mused on his own experience of sin. “Has then that which is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful” (Romans 8:13). If Paul had not seen that sin was “exceedingly sinful” and capable of producing death, he might have clung to it for the rest of his life. But the taste of sin led Paul to abandon it completely.

To see the full effect of sin, look at Jesus on the cross. The descriptions in the Gospels of Jesus’ crucifixion are anything but pleasant; we often recoil as we read and meditate on the details. But we need to know that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Sin is not something to play with, for it destroys people!

Each Lord’s Day, as I “taste” this experience of sin’s effects on my innocent Lord (in the Lord’s Supper), I should reaffirm my desire to have nothing at all to do with sin, but to walk in the pathway of righteousness. The cross of Christ is an uncomfortable meditation – but I need it.

Timothy D. Hall.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL COURT CASES

What is the most controversial court case ever? Obviously this question could spark a long, drawn-out debate. Certainly there are several cases that come to mind. There was the O.J. Simpson trial. Nearly everyone thought he would be found guilty of two murders, but the jury decided otherwise. There was the trial of John Hinkley Jr. After nearly assassinating President Ronald Reagan, the jury found Hinkley not guilty by reason of insanity. Many people were outraged by this verdict. Another trial was concerning the JFK assassination. To this day no one knows for sure if Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy. Unfortunately, Jack Ruby killed Oswald before the courts could determine anything conclusive.

Maybe one other trial to mention in this discussion is the recent case of Casey Anthony. Last week she was found not guilty for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. This particular case has been so controversial that Casey is planning on changing her name, wearing disguises, and living at a secret location because of all of the death threats she has received. This entire situation is very fresh and many people strongly disagree with the verdict.

It is easy to get angry and discouraged with all of these unknowns, especially when it is about murder. Even though most people disagree with the results, we may never know the truth about Casey Anthony, O.J. Simpson, and the JFK assassination for the rest of our lives. While these types of situation definitely upset us, there is an upside to all of this; God will punish the wicked (Jeremiah 21:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; etc). God knows the truth about Casey Anthony and the others, and we can rest assured that He will deal out punishment. As He stated in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.”

It is most reassuring to know that none of these controversial people are going to “get away” with anything. God knows the truth and God will deal accordingly. But the same is true for us. God knows everything that we do and think. Let’s make sure all we do is pleasing in God’s eyes.

Brett Petrillo

People are really not as different from one another

In reading reviews others had written about a product I was thinking of buying, I was abruptly stopped by one review. In discussing what he did and didn’t like about the product, the man mentioned that he uses a wheelchair. For some reason that surprised me. Why?

There are many differences that separate us all. Some are visual: skin color, clothing, physical shape, hair color, etc. When we see these, we immediately draw inferences about others, though they can be quite misleading. Other differences are detected by voice alone: the language spoken, the tone of voice, dialect and vocabulary. Again, hearing these cues – even if we don’t see the person – leads to inferences (read, stereotypes).

The written word strips away most of the differences that separate us. Until they reveal such, we don’t know anything about the writer’s race, age, gender, personal tastes or values. In a sense, we see the sameness of our souls when we read one another’s writings. Words may be the closest we can come to a common denominator between people.

There was one who excelled at looking beyond the differences between people. Jesus of Nazareth was not intimidated by the outward marks that tend to drive people apart. He reached out to women (John 4:7-26), people with “unclean” diseases (Luke 5:12-14), those whose reputation had been tarnished (Luke 5:27-32), or the rich and powerful (John 3:1-21). Traits and cues that cause us to think twice about reaching out to others seemed not to have that effect at all on Jesus.

Jesus’ way of viewing others should become our way. When asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus went further and also noted the second greatest: “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Matthew 22:39, NKJV).

At the heart of that command is this principle: People are really not as different from one another as we often think. When we look beyond the externals we see that we’re all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).  –Tim Hall

Is it coincidental that Jesus was referred to by John as “the word” (John 1:1-14)? Instead of envisioning him as a Jew, a humble carpenter, an associate of sinners or of the gender of a man, we see him at his ultimate when we regard Jesus as the word. He is the finest communication of what God wants each of us to become.

By focusing on the words, we gain access to a window into the souls of others. By looking to “the word” (Jesus), we have a window into the greatness of what souls can become.

I work for NASA

NORMALLY, WITH NO phone or e-mail interruptions, I look forward to redeeming the time on a plane by writing, reading, or doing correspondence…

But after the battery on my computer ran out, and sitting next to someone for what seemed like forever, I finally struck up a conversation with my next-door neighbor.  He was an engineer from the Houston area.

“Petroleum engineer?” I asked.

“No, I work for NASA,” he admitted.

And of course, for the next hour I’m sure that’s something he wished he hadn’t confessed.  Like most people my age who grew up watching the build-up of manned space flight to Neil Armstrong leaving his footprints on the moon, I was an astronaut “wannabe” as a kid.

Here at last was my chance to talk to a genuine missle scientist and ask all my questions about space flight!  He was patient and shared some incredible behind-the-scenes stories, including his role in the last Apollo space flight.  But at one point I hit a nerve when I brought up what I thought was a simple “margin of error” question.

“What are the tolerances you build into the tragectory when you blast off and head to the moon?” I asked him.  “For example, after you blast off, could you be just a little off, say like a couple of degrees off on your flight path, without it being such a huge problem?”

Out came his briefcase and his hybrid handheld calculator that would make a Texas Instruments T3000 blush and feel like a slide rule.  In went the “very approximate” distance of 217,614 miles from earth to the moon (depending on the time of year and apoge of the moon’s orbit around the earth, of course). Fingers flew furiously for a few moments as some Einsteinian calculation continued.

“Be just two degrees off from when you blast off, and roughly talking into account the time and distance traveled,” he said as he turned his calculator toward me, “and you’ll miss not only your point of orbital entry, but you’ll miss the moon by a measly 11,121 miles.”

I wrote down that number on a torn off page of a USA Today that served as an impromptu notepad.  “11,121.”  I finally left my new NASA friend in peace, but I’ve never forgotten his conclusion or what it can tell us about the most important relationships and areas of our lives.

Add in enough time and distance, and be just two degrees off and you’ll miss your target by miles.  I think that thought impacted me so much because it seemed to answer why and how the church of Ephesus had lost her first love.  Just be two degrees off from a right heart attitude, add in enough time and distance, and an entire church can end up miles from God’s heart.  John Trent, “How a 2 Degree Change Can Ruin or Renew Your Life,” HeartShift, 16-17

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.”  Revelation 2.4-5

Mike Benson

The value of the church

WHEN I WAS a little kid, I got a pretty nasty burn on my leg…

The doctor applied a bandage designed to adhere to the burned skin.  The bandage was made of a material that had a healing ointment in it, and as the burn healed and the skin began to grow, the bandage and the skin fused.  It worked almost like a skin graft, and it was very effective in the process of healing.

This is a picture of what the local church should be.  We are not to be a band-aid that provides a small amount of healing and protection for the hurting people around us, only to be taken off and once again made separate.  The church should be fused with those who have been “burned,” working as a unit to bring about healing.  Part of our strategy is to become a vital part of life in our region, not just to be a place for people to visit on the weekends but truly to be a healing place for a hurting world.  We want to be involved, to be part of the cure, and to be a resource for rehabilitation and spiritual restoration.  (Dino Rizzo)

“And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”  Matthew 14:14

–Mike Benson

Two and a half carats

LIVING STONES

Joe died. His will provided $30,000 for an elaborate funeral.

As the last guests departed the affair, his wife, Susan turned to her oldest and dearest friend. “Well, I’m sure Joe would be pleased,” she said.

“I’m sure you’re right,” replied Joan, who lowered her voice and leaned in close. “How much did this really cost?”

“All of it,” said Susan . “Thirty thousand.”

“No!” Joan exclaimed. “I mean, it was very nice, but $30,000?”

Susan answered, “The funeral was $6,500. I donated $500 to the church. The refreshments $500. The rest went for the memorial stone.”

Joan computed quickly. “$22,500 for a memorial stone? My goodness, how big is it?”

“Two and a half carats.”

That humorous story serves as a reminder to us that there are many different kinds of stones — from granite to diamonds — which are of varying value. People all around the world are agreed that a stone of granite is not very valuable, while a diamond gemstone is of great value. Sometimes, though, a stone can have great value, but not be appreciated by some people.

In I Peter 2:4, Jesus is described as a “living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious.” In I Peter 2:6, Jesus is referred to as “a chief cornerstone”, the most important stone in any building. But he was a stone “which the builders rejected” and is viewed as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” (I Peter 2:7,8).

Peter uses these Old Testament concepts (as Jesus himself did) to point out that, while Jesus was chosen by God, he was rejected by men. He was not the kind of Messiah they were expected, so they stumbled over him. It was the same stone, but Jesus was viewed by some as a very valuable stone and by others as a worthless rock.

The application of this passage to us as Christians is found in Peter’s description of us as “living stones, [who] are being built up a spiritual house.” (I Peter 2:5). Peter is writing this epistle to Christians who are suffering persecution, and are getting discouraged because this world is making life hard for them even though they are doing what is right.

Peter’s point is that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we can expect no different treatment than he received. We are living stones who follow “the stone,” a stone that was rejected by men. We shouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens to us. Our responsibility, as living stones, is simply to continue to live in a way that will bring honor and glory to God. Some will appreciate our effort, some will not, but, in the end, all that matters is that we are “chosen by God” just as Jesus was.

“Father, there are times when we get so very discouraged. There are times when it seems that, the harder we strive to serve you faithfully, the more difficult life becomes. Help us to remember that we are followers of Jesus and that we can expect nothing different from what Jesus received while he was on this earth. Father, we ask your blessing as we seek to live in a way that glorifies you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Alan Smith

Drink it your way

The Coca-Cola Company has come out with a new soft drink machine.  This contraption has just one spout to dispense drinks, but it allows users to choose from more than 100 distinct drinks.  If you want to drink Sprite, you can choose this basic drink or have your Sprite flavored with strawberry, cherry, grape, peach, or even raspberry.  A similar choice is available for those who wish to drink Coca-Cola, lemonade, fruit punch, etc.  A picture of this machine and a description of how it works can be found here: http://bit.ly/jmJvGi.

One of the marketing pitches for this new drink dispenser is “Drink it your way.”  This is a catchy slogan.  This is also the way a lot of people approach religion.

In today’s religious world there is a religious group for virtually every belief.  From witchcraft to the various forms of Christianity, our world is full of religious faiths and rituals so people can enjoy a “Have it your way” faith.

If we examine the Bible, we find an unusually strong emphasis on the word “one.”  Under the Old Testament era God selected just one special nation to be His people (this was Israel).  When the church was instituted, God gave it a single foundation (1 Cor. 3:11).  In Rev. 21:2 the Bible speaks of a “bride” (singular).  We also find words like “kingdom” (Mk. 9:1) and “church” (Mt. 16:18) being expressed with the singular instead of the plural.

Our world boldly claims there are multiple religious bodies that have God’s approval, several hopes we can choose from, and a variety of baptisms, faiths, Lords, and Gods.  The Bible says there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God (Eph. 4:4-6).  Jesus made a similar claim when He spoke of “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

Man now has more soft drink choices than ever.  Man’s choice of religion, if he wishes to please God, will always be limited to the one way described in the New Testament (compare Mt. 7:13-14).  Are you following this one and narrow way?

Brad Price
www.abiblecommentary.com